Developers are envisioning sprawling sports complexes across north Georgia, modern-day fields of dreams that may soon be built. The question they will soon face is whether the jobs and visitors will come.
From west Georgia to west Midtown, each of the projects is pinned to the hope that fields, gyms and stadiums will generate millions of dollars in economic development and attract tourists from across the country.
The biggest of those is LakePoint Sporting Community, an ambitious 1,200 acre project that breaks ground Thursday with the backing of former Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox and other big leaguers. The developers plan dozens of sports fields as well as a 20-acre water park for wakeboarders.
They hope to surround it with hotels, restaurants and retail space that could turn the attraction off Interstate 75 on the banks of Lake Allatoona into a drawing card for athletes and their families.
“It’s a very ambitious vision,” said Judy Sparks, a partner and chief marketing officer with LakePoint. And she has ambitious hopes: A $200 million initial phase that could create 2,400 direct jobs. When the privately funded complex is fully built out, it could cost nearly $1 billion. It’s expected to open by 2014.
Several smaller projects in the works could be located closer to metro Atlanta.
A group called the Atlanta Sports Connection plans to either purchase land near Spaghetti Junction or secure a parcel of the former GM plant in Doraville for a $55 million site with playing fields, stadiums, a sports medicine facility and a corporate development center. Patrick Henderson, the venture’s chief executive, said the goal is to open by 2014.
“There’s a scarcity of field space for youth and adults,” said Henderson. “We found there’s a need for non-publicly owned facilities because a lot of the parks and recreation space is limited.”
Another in the works is the Odyssey Sportsplex, a $100 million facility on a seven-acre plot near Atlantic Station. Developers hope to turn an industrial site into a recreational facility that would include a pool, basketball courts, tennis courts, several playing fields and a hockey rink.
Sporting groups say there’s a need for vast complexes that can host large tournaments. Rick Skirvin, who heads Georgia Soccer, said large tournaments often require at least 16 fields in one place and there are only a few facilities in the southeast that can accommodate them.
“It seems there’s a pent-up demand for facilities,” said Skirvin, whose organization is the state’s governing body for soccer in Georgia.
Athletic complexes have been a tough sell in this uneasy economy and finding investors and financing has been difficult. Big League Dreams has looked for public help to build a baseball complex in Gwinnett County and the Lilburn City Council recently approved a $1.31 million purchase of 38 acres for the space.
The vote came despite dissension from critics who said local lawmakers shouldn’t get into the business of developing sports complexes, but supporters say luring sports enthusiasts to town plays into their larger economic development plans.
LakePoint is trying to level the playing field by signing major long-term tenants. The project will house baseball scouting company Perfect Game Inc., which would host hundreds of games at the complex’s 16 baseball fields. A soccer association and a lacrosse group have also committed to playing at the facility.
“We’re going into this venture with these long-term leases with organizations that have a long track record of attracting vendors to the events,” said Sparks.
And to those who doubt that this field of dreams will ever be completed?
“You’ll start seeing dirt moving this winter,” she said. “And people will start believing.”